27 February 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


** Guinea Statement


The Secretary-General welcomes the decision by President Conté to appoint a consensus Prime Minister, in conformity with the agreement reached with labour leaders and civil society organizations on 27 January. He commends the successful and constructive facilitation role played by the ECOWAS mediation mission headed by General Ibrahim Babangida and calls on all Guineans to support the new Prime Minister.


The Secretary-General calls on the international community to enhance its economic cooperation with the new Government with a view to consolidating the consensus reached, which would allow the reform process and the country’s efforts on poverty alleviation and the promotion of development, good governance and respect for human rights and the rule of law to take hold.


The Secretary-General is closely following developments in Guinea through his Special Representative for West Africa, Mr. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah.  You have the full statement upstairs in my office.


** Sri Lanka Statement


“The Secretary-General condemns the shelling today by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of a helicopter airfield in Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka, which injured 12 people, including the UN Resident Coordinator and other members of a high-ranking international delegation, all of whom were taking part in a humanitarian assessment mission in the area. The attack was in total disregard for the lives of civilians, humanitarian workers, Government officials, and the international community.


“The Secretary-General urges the parties to the conflict to end the destructive spiral of violence and calls on them to make every effort to return to the peace process as soon as possible.”


** Myanmar Statement


“The Secretary-General welcomes the agreement reached yesterday between the International Labour Organization and the Government of Myanmar on the establishment of a complaint mechanism for victims of forced labour.


“The establishment of such a mechanism has been a longstanding request of the International Labour Conference and the ILO Governing Body, and the importance of such a step was underlined by Under-Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari during his recent visit to Myanmar in the context of the Secretary-General’s good offices.”


**ICC/Darfur


The International Criminal Court says that its Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, today presented evidence showing that Ahmad Muhammad Harun, former Minister of State for the Interior of the Government of the Sudan, and Ali Kushayb, a leader of the Janjaweed militia, jointly committed crimes against the civilian population in Darfur.


The Prosecutor accused the two individuals of 51 counts of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes based on evidence showing that they acted together, and with others, with the common purpose of carrying out attacks against the civilian populations.  The crimes were allegedly committed during attacks in four localities of West Darfur between August 2003 and March 2004.  And we have a press release from the ICC upstairs.


**Security Council


The Security Council is holding consultations this morning on Chad and the Central African Republic, as well as other matters.


Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi is briefing Council members on the Secretary-General’s recent report on those two countries, which we flagged to you last Friday.


** Sudan


In the context of his regular visits to oversee humanitarian operations, including to identify conflict-affected populations’ needs in Darfur, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan and the UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator Manuel Aranda da Silva yesterday visited several sites in North Darfur with representatives from UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  He also met with rebel groups’ field commanders in the two areas.  Water and health were deemed to be the most pressing needs.  Aranda da Silva noted the increasing insecurity faced by humanitarian workers, in particular the increasing trend of car-jacking and the strain that this was placing on humanitarian operations.  He emphasized that the responsibility to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian operations lies with those controlling the areas concerned.  More details are in today’s bulletin compiled by the UN Mission in Darfur. 


** Chad


The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees today issued a $6.2 million supplementary appeal to fund protection and assistance programmes for tens of thousands of internally displaced people in eastern Chad.


The latest appeal is in addition to the refugee agency’s 2007 annual budget of $69.3 million for some 220,000 refugees from neighbouring Darfur region in 12 camps in eastern Chad, and another 46,000 from the Central African Republic in the south of the country.


**Colombia/Ecuador


The UN refugee agency reports that more than 300 people fleeing violence in southern Colombia crossed the San Juan River and arrived in the small northern Ecuadorian border town of Chical over the weekend. The group lived on the opposite bank of the river. A large number of Awa indigenous people are among the newcomers.


UNHCR has deployed a team of humanitarian workers to the town and is distributing emergency items and food rations in coordination with partner organizations.  You can read more about this in UNHCR’s briefing notes.


** Somalia


The World Food Programme today announced that Somali authorities in the Puntland region have arrested four presumed members of a group of pirates who on Sunday hijacked a WFP-contracted ship off the coast of Somalia. The men were arrested when they went ashore to buy supplies in the town of Bargal.


Meanwhile, some four hijackers are believed to remain on board and in control of the hijacked vessel, which latest reports indicate the ship is now sailing southwards.  And we’ll update you on this as the information reaches us.


** Zambia


The World Food Programme (WFP) is preparing to cut the vital food rations it currently provides to around 500,000 Zambians over the coming weeks, because of a critical shortage of funds.  Those 500,000 Zambians include orphans and AIDS patients.


WFP says that it needs $29 million to fund its operations across Zambia until the end of 2007. We have a press release on that upstairs.


**Palestinian People


Today is the opening of the 2007 Session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.  The Secretary-General is expected to address the Committee this afternoon at 3 p.m.


The Secretary-General is expected to note the Palestinian people’s yearning for freedom and dignity, and the Israeli people’s desire for long-term security.  He is also expected to stress that neither can reach their legitimate demands without a settlement of the conflict.  Advance copies of the statement will be available upstairs.


**Information and Communication Technology


The Global Alliance for Information and Communications Technologies and Development is meeting today and tomorrow in California.  You’ll recall that the Global Alliance is a UN initiative to bring the benefits of information technology to developing countries.


The Secretary-General, in a video message to the meeting today, says that information and communications technologies have a central role to play in the quest for development, dignity and peace. We have the text of that message upstairs.


**Press Conferences


Because we will have a lot of activity in Room 226 in the coming days, we thought it fair to give you a heads up on what to expect:


Of course we have Mia Farrow immediately following this briefing, to tell you about her recent visit to Chad and the Central African Republic.


Tomorrow, at 10:30 a.m., the Spanish Mission is sponsoring a press conference for the non-governmental organizations “Peace and Cooperation” and “Airline Ambassadors” to launch the Peace and Cooperation 2007 International School Award. 


At 11:15 a.m., there will be a press briefing by Joel Boutroue, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti, on the humanitarian situation in Haiti.


UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour will be the guest at the noon briefing tomorrow.


And at 3 p.m., there will be a briefing on the UN Pension Fund, with Controller Warren Sach and Bernard Cochemé, Chief Executive Officer of the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund.


On Thursday, at 11 a.m., the International Parliamentary Union will hold a press conference on annual statistics of women in parliament and the role of women leaders.


And our guest at noon will be Eric Laroche, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.


And on Friday, at 11 a.m., the Brazilian Mission will host a press conference on the use of biofuels and recent cooperation agreements signed by Brazil and other countries.


At approximately 12:30 p.m., Security Council President for March, Ambassador Dumisani S. Kumalo of South Africa, will brief on the Council’s Programme of Work for the month.


And news just in, at 1:30 on Friday, the Mission of Lebanon has asked for a press conference for Marwan Hamadeh, Minister of Telecommunications, and Walid Jumblatt, Member of the Lebanese Parliament.


As usual, we will publish speakers for each conference on a daily basis, or you can contact my office for specifics.


This is all I have for you. We are going to try to be short if you don’t mind because Mrs. Farrow is expected here in about ten minutes.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Speaking of Mr. Jumblatt and Marwan Hamadeh, did they ask to meet with Mr. Ban Ki-moon the Secretary-General?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know yet. The request for the press conference just came right before I came here and I haven’t checked with the Secretary-General’s office yet whether they have an appointment with him. Yes, Richard?


[The Spokeswoman later added that Jumblatt and Hamadeh had indeed asked to meet with the Secretary-General but that so far there was no confirmation on whether such a meeting had been formally scheduled.]


Question:  Two quick… can you confirm whether the Secretary-General’s meeting with the families of abducted Israeli soldiers – I didn’t see that on his schedule today. I was wondering why it wasn’t listed if it was indeed taking place. And the other thing is, does the UN have a comment or plan to do anything about the head of the UN’s intellectual property bureau who is accused in this UN audit of apparently using a false birthday to make him nine years older when he applied to join, then backdating, and using a younger age in a bid to gain retirement benefits? And will that audit be released?


Spokesperson:  Yes.  Your first question -- yes, I can confirm that the Secretary-General is meeting with the families of the prisoners. Second question concerning the WIPO, we have talked about this before. You can have additional information in my office on this, but this is being followed very closely.


Question:  One question and quick point on housekeeping.  Great that you’re doing this pension briefing, but was this announced before?  Because this is kind of slightly short notice to learn of a briefing that I really hope to go to, but I already have, you know, whatever…it would be nice if briefings could be announced with a little bit of notice rather than two and half hours would be great.  Now the question is…


Spokesperson:  It’s tomorrow.


Correspondent:  Oh, tomorrow?  I apologize for that.  It’s entirely my fault.  OK.


Spokesperson:  You have a whole day to prepare, Mark.


Question:  I take it back.  I flagellate myself. On climate change, we’ve just had this group coming and pushing to talk to the Secretary-General.  There was this whole question about whether there would be a summit or not.  Has the Secretary-General taken, evolved any way in his thinking as to when it might be useful to hold some kind of summit? Basically, he said this is a priority of his, but when are we going to hear anything a little bit more concrete from the Secretary-General as to how he should go ahead with it? And on the same vein, does the Secretary-General consider climate change to be a threat to international peace and security? 


Spokesperson:  First question, whether he’s considering a summit, yes he is. Whether it is confirmed or not, not yet.  He has no decision, no decision has been taken on holding a summit yet […] Right now, I cannot really say anything more about this, because it is being considered, you know. As soon as I get the date, Mark, I’ll let you know. But I don’t have a date at the moment, and in fact, the decision has not been taken yet whether there will be a summit or not.


Question:  Where?


Spokesperson:  We don’t know where it will be either. That has not been decided either. But there has been that request from several organisations to hold that summit and the Secretary-General is considering it. […]


Question:  Thank you. Does he consider climate change to be a threat to international peace and security?


Spokesperson: Yes, he does.


[The Spokesperson later clarified that the Secretary-General considers climate change a pressing global problem that has a strong impact on international peace and security.]


Question:  Has he made that therefore -- under article 100 is it? –- has he brought that to the attention of the Security Council?


Spokesperson:  No, not as such, no.


Question:  Is he going to?


Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.


Question:  Has the Secretary-General’s bulletin about information sensitivity, seems to create this classification -- confidential, highly confidential – I wanted to know, under previous Under-Secretary-General for Management, Chris Burnham, said that he was coming out with the Freedom of Information Policy -- I haven’t heard it. I don’t think this is it, because this doesn’t say how to request information. But does this bulletin that creates these categories of confidential information, does it seek to penalize UN employees if, by as a whistleblower or otherwise, they provide information?


Spokesperson:  I haven’t seen this yet. As soon as I get some information on it, I’ll let you know.  Yes, but I haven’t known about it.


Question:  To the summit, have any (inaudible) country offered to host the conference?


Spokesperson:  At this point, no.


Question:  You mentioned that you were confirming that the Secretary-General had met with the families of the Israeli captives, although you didn’t mention exactly when. If possible, these people are still in the building, might they be persuaded to come to speak with us at the stakeout?


Spokesperson:  Well, they are meeting this afternoon with the Secretary-General.


Question:  So they might come by later then, conceivably?


Spokesperson:  We’ll ask.


Question:  Michele, you were saying earlier that following the appointment of USGs and ASGs, we would know more about the appointments of new Special Representatives of the Secretary-General. Will all of the earlier appointments made by the previous Secretary-General stay at the current locations or will they be moved around?


Spokesperson:  You mean…


Question:  In terms of various…


Spokesperson:  Yes, we don’t know yet. Each one of them has a specific contract with a specific end to that contract and there will be movement once their contract expires.


Question:  Do you know approximately if there is a set date for most of them or if they were assigned at different times.


Spokesperson:  They are different times.


Question:  I understand there is a meeting today between Sir Williams in Beirut regarding the overflights over Lebanon. Can you update us about what happened in that meeting?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know yet. I haven’t spoken to Michael Williams today but I can find out for you.


Question:  Any progress regarding the swap of prisoners between Lebanon and Israel?


Spokesperson:  No, not that I know of.


QuestionShashi Tharoor is scheduled to speak on 1 March at Duke University and it identifies him still as Under-Secretary-General of Information. When does the new head of DPI start?


Spokesperson:  I can check the exact date for you but I know Mr. Tharoor is here for at least the end of March.


[The Spokesperson later added that the new Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information will take up his duties on 2 April.]


Question:  There are various proposals in the US Congress to withdraw US troops and the British have announced (inaudible) that they are going to withdraw a lot of them – does the Secretary-General have any view on how that might impact the UN Mission in Iraq?


Spokesperson: At this point, the question is being discussed a lot about… the Secretary-General always said that security is a precondition for the UN to be able to do more, so I think this still remains. 


Question: Are you concerned that, if troops were withdrawn, that would perhaps limit the UN’s ability to operate in the country?


Spokesperson: It’s all going to depend on what it means in terms of the security situation.


Question: A follow up to his question – does the Secretary-General believe that a negotiation, two-party negotiation, including Syria and Iran, would be beneficial for solving the Iraqi problems?


Spokesperson: Well, he has talked about the fact that there should be some regional implication in solving the Iraqi situation, but he hasn’t specified which countries would be involved in such an initiative, if there is one from the UN.


Question: But is he leaning to, let’s say, to the conclusion of the Baker-Hamilton Commission, that they said that they should be talking to the enemies? To the United States ?  Does he lean to that solution? To talk to Iran and Syria as contributors to the final solution of the Iraqi problem?


Spokesperson: I cannot answer that question right now.


Question: Regarding the assassination of four French nationals in Saudi Arabia…?


Spokesperson: No, I don’t have anything on that.


Question:  Did the plan… (inaudible)… to Middle East …to meet… to Syria?


Spokesperson: At this point, the Secretary-General has not decided on what would be the countries he would go to and, as I said yesterday, as soon as I find out, I will give you the itinerary where he will go and approximate dates.


Question:  …is there going to be an Arabic Summit?


Spokesperson: As far as I know, yes. Thank you very much and I will leave the room for Mrs. Farrow.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record